Artist Dossier: Owusu Ankomah

Artist Dossier: Owusu Ankomah

Owusu-Ankomah was born in 1956 in Ghana. He studied at Ghanatta College of Art, Accra, before moving in 1986 to Bremen, Germany, where he still lives and works. Owusu-Ankomah’s canvases merge symbols of his own invention with geographically and historically diverse visual references to everything from Sahara rock painting and Italian Renaissance sculpture to Ghanaian textile designs, Chinese calligraphy, New York graffiti, and Brazilian capoeira martial arts. A recurring theme in Owusu-Ankomah’s large bold canvases is the adinkra system of signs originating from the pre-colonial cloth printing tradition of the Akan people. Each sign relates to a particular proverb or saying.

The easily recognisable adinkra motifs are usually placed next to each other in a repetitive square pattern on adinkra cloths. While Owusu-Ankomah adheres to this structured layout, upon closer scrutiny, one realises that there are other shapes that are defined by these symbols, forcing one to look even more closely to reassess presuppositions. It is important for the artist that the past be remembered and acknowledged so that one can live more consciously in the present and be ambitious for a positive future. By placing a number of symbols on each canvas, Owusu-Ankomah projects a collective wisdom from the past.

Microcron-Kunsum 1, 2010, acrylic canvas

The artist is celebrated for his bold canvases, and his work addresses themes of identity and the body. In addition, his paintings portray a spiritual world without light and shadow, occupied by people and symbols. The way in which his figures coexist with the symbols in his paintings has moved through several distinct phases that reflect the artist’s own spiritual journey.

Owusu-Ankomah’s early work drew heavily on the ancient traditions of masquerade and rock painting in Africa, then his figures seemed to shed their masks and body painting to become bold and unashamedly visible. With broken patterns, he is able to infuse extra dramatic effect and challenge perceptions and expectations of what is normal and acceptable.

Starkid 2007, acrylic on canvas, 150 x 240 cm

Owusu-Ankomah is profoundly influenced by the work of Michelangelo. His paintings deal with scientific, technological, metaphysical, and spiritual facts and truths. He is concerned with the evolution of the human, consciousness, the non-locality of the soul, and its eternal progression. He believes emphatically that there have been other ancient, highly advanced civilisations before Egypt who were adept in sacred geometry, which he uses in his work. More of his latest works have featured crop circles, his way of bearing witness to the idea that we are not alone in the universe, that we have been visited, and are still being visited.

Between 2004 and 2008, he cultivated the lifestyle of a hermit, reflecting, meditating, researching, and finally coining the word microcron, with its accompanying theory and philosophy. ‘Microcrons’ is his most recent body of work, and they are painted mainly in black and white. The figures—though still bold, naked, and powerful—are covered in complex symbols which render them almost invisible against a backdrop composed of similar symbols.

Movement 20, 2010, acryl on nettle,150 x 200 cm

This different yet complex style of his work has earned him high prices at auctions abroad. His highest-selling work, Movement No. 20 (2001), was sold for $26,998 at Gaia S.A.S’s Art Contemporain – Afriques auction in November 2009.

Movement 20, 2010, acryl on nettle,150 x 200 cm

Other high-selling works include Movement No. 4 (2005), sold for $25,055 at Sotheby’s Modern & Contemporary African Art sale in October 2018; Sonneprinz (1997), sold for $22,903 at Gaia S.A.S’s Art Contemporain – Afriques auction in December 2008; Microcron – Nsu No.8 (2012), sold for $19,752 at Sotheby’s Modern & Contemporary African Art sale in March 2018; and Movement No. 23 (2008), sold for $17,000 at Phillips de Pury & Company’s AFRICA auction in May 2010.

Owusu-Ankomah has held many solo exhibitions around Europe, Africa, and North America. He has also participated in important group exhibitions, such as Journeys and Destinations at the National Museum of African Art, Washington, in 2003 and Africa Remix in Johannesburg in 2004. In 2006, he was invited to create a work for the FIFA World Cup Art Edition Project. His paintings have been exhibited in several prestigious institutions, including the Newark Museum (Newark, US), Mori Art Museum (Tokyo, Japan), Museum Kunstpalast (Dusseldorf, Germany), and the Centre Pomidou (Paris, France).



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